When former education secretary Rebecca Holcombe took aim at her Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman for being an anti-vaxxer it seemed an unusual tact; gubernatorial primaries typically focus on baseline issues, not whether Vermonters should be able to opt out of vaccinations.

These are not normal times, as we know. Most particularly for candidates running for office who must campaign through means other than personal contact, political rallies, or public fundraisers. The issues have also changed. Almost everything relates to the pandemic and the countless fissures it has exposed in our lives.

Which is why Ms. Holcombe is questioning the wisdom of supporting Mr. Zuckerman in the Democratic Party’s August gubernatorial primary. “It’s scary that anyone in public office or seeking public office would cast doubt about the value of vaccines. It’s unbelievable this is even up for debate.”

The issue relates back to Mr. Zuckerman’s opposition in 2015 to a bill that proposed repealing the “philosophical exemption” to vaccinations. The bill ended up being approved and signed into law, Mr. Zuckerman’s opposition notwithstanding.

Mr. Zuckerman has responded to Ms. Holcombe’s charges, calling them unconscionably political.

But Ms. Holcombe has a solid point. If Mr. Zuckerman felt so strongly about maintaining the state’s philosophic exemption provision, then what role would he play if elected governor? The anti-vaxxer movement is growing nationally with adherents in Vermont as well. Would he create the space to allow Vermonters to do what they want? Would he be the advocate we need to convince Vermonters to take the vaccine for Covid-19 when it’s available?

Mr. Zuckerman’s position is not clear. What he has said is that when the Covid-19 vaccine is available “it should be free for all and universally accessible.”

But that’s not the answer Vermonters need to hear. It’s one thing to say Vermonters should have access to the vaccine, and that it should be free and quite another to take on the role of advocate, spending time and the resources to convince Vermonters of the vaccine’s importance in controlling the virus.

Would Mr. Zuckerman be that advocate? As Ms. Holcombe implies, probably not.

It’s a more serious issue than most of us assume. And more challenging. According to recent polls, about half of Americans say they would get vaccinated for Covid-19, with 31 percent saying they weren’t sure and 20 percent saying they would flatly refuse the vaccine. Many of those polled who had questions, were concerned about getting the virus through the shots [an impossibility] and others wanted to wait until all safety issues had been resolved.

What is most puzzling about the polls is that the highest percentage of those opposed to the vaccination are African Americans — 40 percent said they would refuse to be vaccinated. And that’s the very demographic that has been hit hardest by the pandemic. Why?

Clearly, there is an enormous opportunity, and need, to communicate with Vermonters about the value of a vaccine and how central it is to getting us back to a state of normalcy. Ms. Holcombe is correct in raising questions about Mr. Zuckerman’s suitability to the challenge.

by Emerson Lynn

Recommended for you